2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
In 1986 one of my mentors preached from these verses at my ordination for vocational ministry.
I was, at the time, 28 years old…I know that is old to some teens, but I was young…in every way possible…not just years, experience, wisdom.
Now, I am, relatively speaking…an older man.
I say that because I thought of this verse one way in 1986, I think of it differently now.
I am no Timothy or Paul, not even close…but I thought then about this passage more from Timothy’s perspective, now I think about it a bit more from Paul’s.
The meaning of the passage, of course, hasn’t changed…God’s word doesn’t change…but we do.
Time and trouble, opens up in our lives…more and more of what God has said to us in his word.
This is my new favorite picture…my daughter Crystal took it last Monday.
It wasn’t staged, I was fully in task mode…working on a project when little man showed up in my yard to “help.”
Of course, I didn’t really need his help…and It took a long time to carry that pipe with Joseph “helping”.
But then again, life is not just getting stuff done (Which is, unfortunately, often the way I have lived my life).
Life is about faithfulness…which includes faithfully being invested in and faithful investing in others.
And investing is time consuming, and costly in many ways…but it is bottom line, essential for all of us.
Let’s walk through this content dense passage…from a letter written by an older man… who continues to faithfully invest in the next generation.
2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
When I was 28, and first thought deeply about this passage, I could work out one day, without feeling it the next…that’s not true anymore.
I’ve not just lost physical capacity over the years, I’ve lost SOME of the capacity for the foolish thinking that I was…in my own strength, capable of getting life done.
The years take muscle mass…but they can take the foolishness of pride.
I thought of this verse on the day of my ordination…and knew then that I wanted to and needed to find my strength in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
But you can’t just instantly “make yourself become something or someone”
You do have to want to become that thing…but wanting is not enough.
You have to train over time.
It is important that you hear what Paul is NOT saying as well as what he is saying.
He is not saying we are to passively “let God” do for us what we are required to do ourselves.
He is not advocating for passivity at all…you can easily see that in the action verses that will follow.
But as he sets up the very proactive examples of soldier, athlete, and farmer…he begins with the all important foundation for a proactive and ultimately successful life…
Be Strong…in the Grace of Christ.
There is choice…be strong
There is gift…in the grace of Christ.
What this means practically is that we are to make every effort to seek to train our minds, hearts, and life actions to live with full confidence in God not self.
We are to study, to gain skill and experience, we are to respond to life’s opportunities and difficulties…taking full responsibility for our lives and yet fully relying on God’s grace.
That great tension…take full responsibility, put full trust in God…works in real life…but takes real life work.
To let go of either side of the tension doesn’t work.
To merely give full effort…without enjoying God’s Grace…will burn you out.
You may get stuff done…but what will your life count for in the end?
To enjoy God’s grace…but not to give full effort…will rust you out.
You eventually, will be unable to enjoy God’s grace.
After all it is His grace, that empowers effort and brings fruit…if we apply no effort…then the flow of the Holy Spirit becomes like stagnant water.
…not a fresh, beautiful stream…with continual input and continual output.
With that foundation in place…full effort, full trust in God…let’s go on.
2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
How many generations do you count there?
Let’s count them together.
Paul, Timothy, reliable men, others…four, if we count the many witnesses as the same generation as Paul or Timothy.
This is a brief description of the Lord’s plan to change the world.
A life on life ministry of multiplication.
“Men”, Robert Coleman in his powerful little book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism” “were Jesus’ method.”
“Men were his method” is catchy…with the m & m alliteration…but in fact, People were his method.
Men and women made up his followers.
These men and women invested in other men and women…and without internet, or printing presses, or modern travel…the gospel spread across the world and changed the world.
James Hunter in his book, “To Change the World” wrote of how the world is changed through what he calls “faithful presence”
Leaders do change the world, but a certain kind of leader…he writes…
“The practice of leadership for the Christian is sacrificial in character…there is no true leadership without putting at risk one’s time, wealth, reputation, and position.”
Hitler sought to change the world, as did Stalin, and Mao and many others…by destroying life, elevating self…by being ruthless, heartless, faithless in their absolute quest for power.
We think, the world is changed by power…and it is, but what kind of power?
Jesus, the Lord of life itself…showed his friends how to change the world…he washed their dirty feet…the work of a slave.
Then he went to cross to die for their (our sins).
So, when Paul tells Timothy “The things you heard me say, pass on to others…”
This is what Paul has in mind for Timothy to pass on to others.
“Lay down your life.”
To collect correct information (truth) about God…but to fail to grow in humility and willingness to
The Lord did not intend to multiply followers who merely “knew stuff” but rather men and women who would live like he did.
Jesus said, “They will know you are my followers if you love one another.”
So, at the heart of what Timothy is to pass on is a theology of the cross…follow Jesus in laying down your life for others.
This was going to involve personal sacrifice and discipline.
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
Bam, bam, bam…that’s three different vocations in a single illustration.
These vocations or avocations have some things in common:
- They all require costly sacrifice and faithful service
Soldier: avoids the entanglements of civilian life.
Soldiers eat, wash clothes, rest…but they don’t get entangled in, side tracked by the affairs of civilians who are not at war, or who are not seeking to please their commanders.
A soldier, unlike an employee at Koch, or Textron…can be given a lawful order to go and die.
Competitive athletes likewise have to practice self-denial as well…it’s not life or death…but they don’t get to “do their own thing” if they want to compete for the prize.
They must compete according to the rules.
Farmers don’t receive a harvest unless they do the hard work of planting, caring for crops.
They will reap according to how they sow…they must obey the laws farming.
Soldiers, athletes, famers don’t get to “do their own thing.”
But it’s not just a sacrifice focus…
- These sacrifices result in tangible rewards…there is fruit in faithfulness for these three vocations.
Soldier: works for the pleasure of the commander…which can bring rank, and recognition.
Athlete: the victor’s crown
Farmer: a harvest
You can be an unhappy soldier, athlete, or farmer.
But for the soldier, athlete, farmer…who looks to the goal not just to the price paid there is satisfaction and purpose in the sacrifice
One of the most important life lessons we tried to pass on to our children was the importance of and joy found in “delayed gratification”…it came to be known simply as DG around our house.
I’m sure the girls got tired of hearing DG…and I’m sure I weaponized it at times…but it remains a super important foundation for how I see them living their lives now.
DG is tied, very directly to much of the personal happiness I see them experiencing.
The soldier, athlete, farmer…to be successful…has to become really good at delayed gratification and avoid, the temptation of pursing its joy-robbing oppositive…immediate gratification.
immediate gratification as a lifestyle…destroys the good in our lives.
So we found simple ways to teach DG young…mostly it involved pointing out the fruits of paying a price for something.
At the end of school semesters…when certain tasks or seasons of life were completed…we would celebrate in some way to mark the effort and sacrifices made…and point to the fruits of DG.
Those fruits were not just things like…ribbons, or grades…but satisfaction, personal growth and other super important but not always easily recognized rewards.
So if you read verse:
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus
Without understanding that Paul was a person of great joy…(read his letter to the Philippians) you will miss the heart of what he is saying.
He is not saying, “Timothy, suck it up, be miserable…like a soldier dying in the mud, or a runner miserably putting in empty miles, or a farmer hating his life of digging in the dirt.”
He is saying “Endure hardship…like the soldier who has great purpose, the athlete who trains for a prize and the farmer who is confident of a harvest.”
Think Jesus, “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross.”
Think DG…sacrifice and joy. Faithfulness and fruit.
7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
These examples don’t seem that complex…why the need to encourage Timothy to reflect on them and the need for the Lord to give insight?
Because on the surface, we can read… “Soldier, athlete, farmer…got it, seen those, know how that works.”
But on deeper reflection we see that all of these examples come with their own form of suffering.
And there is something else soldiers, athletes and farmers have in common…the fruit can come way, way after the sacrifices.
Soldiers…can die and win their medals posthumously
Athletes…can train and not win a key race, or become injured.
Farmers…can suffer through droughts.
The rewards that are guaranteed in the gospel…are not ultimately all fulfilled in this life.
Paul’s instructions to Timothy are full of challenge…and he has to embrace this challenge and not shrink back from it.
*It was as common then as it is now…for people to become surprised and disillusioned with they “do the right thing” or “Trust in Jesus” and yet life is still hard, the harvest is slow in coming.
Paul wrote elsewhere… “Do not become weary in doing good, you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up.”
See that conditional “if”…the implication is…you will not reap a harvest if you quit and walk away from faithfulness.
We have this idea that when we do “our part” then God, life, the universe…whatever…will “play fair” and give us our due reward in the time and manner in which we expect it. (often demand it).
Os Guinness in his book, “Renaissance” writes that in the Global South Christianity is exploding but in many cases evangelism is out running discipleship.
One result, as an African bishop said to Os is “When my people hit a problem, they revert to their pre-Christians practices. A husband finds his wife cannot bear children, so he resorts to the witch doctor or takes a second or third wife.”
A house church pastor in China made a similar comment: “Many of my people are only one unanswered prayer away from leaving the church and resorting to Buddhism or animism to solve their problems.”
I think this false expectation or absence of a theology of the cross…is behind much of the current “deconstructing faith” that we see in the Christian sub-culture.
But although deconstructing the faith is a new term it is an old reality…Paul had seen it many times in his decades of church planting and pastoring.
He wants Timothy to embrace faithfulness and sacrifice and to pass this way of life on to others.
He wants to set expectations up front…so Christians will endure all the way to the end.
So, tie these verses back to verse 2.
2 Tim. 2:2…The multiplication ministry means we must make sure that others understand that to follow Jesus is to follow him to the cross.
Not to pay for our own sins…but to die to our own self-will and interests.
So…it takes some active reflection to think through these common examples of soldier, athlete, farmer.
But why the need for divine insight?
Because it is one thing to contemplate these things when you are just reading and thinking about them…it is quite another to live with faithfulness when you are actually suffering.
We need God’s power in us when we are training and the fruit of training seems a long way off…or we are in situations where the reality of the gospel starts to fade away…this can happen on dark nights, in classrooms, and boardrooms, and road trips.
The Psalms outline how the truth can fade at times in our hearts and minds…the Bible is honest about the struggle.
We must do the work of making our minds hold on to these truths…and we need God’s power to make them come alive in our lives.
This is that great tension again, “be strong in the Grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
We reflect…which is hard mental work.
God empowers our reflection with transformation…as we follow him.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.
Paul mentions Jesus resurrection here because clearly to have the resurrection, there had to first be a cruxifiction.
To offer the hope that since Christ has been raised from the dead those who follow him need not fear that all will be lost when suffering comes.
Paul is suffering on death row, chained like a criminal though he had committed no crimes…because of the gospel.
We can be sometimes become surprised and dismayed when our fidelity to the gospel doesn’t result in an abundance of physical, mental, and social blessings for us.
Paul on the other hand is unsurprised and undeterred when his commitment to the gospel results in suffering.
Can you see how different this view of following Christ is from the false gospel that teaches nothing but health and prosperity for those who follow Christ.
Paul uses a great turn of the phrase here to demonstrate his larger perspective.
“I am chained” but “God’s word is not chained.”
The very places where Christians are most restricted are the places where the gospel is spreading the most rapidly.
We make our own chains when we live with an aversion to sacrifice…when we begin to live just like the world around does.
A civilian not a soldier
A spectator not an athlet
A consumer not a farmer/producer.
We miss out on the amazing opportunity offered to us by God himself…to join him in what he is doing in the world.
We cannot, if we with an aversion to sacrifice…which means to stay where we are…and go with him at the same time…join him in what he is doing in the world.
10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
Endure is one of Paul’s favorite words.
He knew from experience that to living a life of love for God and others…called for stamina, and being faithful through whatever came his way.
Paul is finishing well and he is putting the full court press on Timothy to embrace a vision for finishing well himself…and for passing this vision on to others.
These are a dense and complex few sentences…the way I interpret them is by using the weight of what Paul has said in all of his letters…here is my summary.
Paul is laying down his life so the elect will know Christ.
The elect, are those whom God will save and keep.
The same elect are the ones who believe the gospel and endure to the end.
Those who are truly God, he will keep to the end…even if and when they stumble.
The main thrust here is not to get tripped up over who is elect and what does it mean.
The main point is that Paul’s sacrificial endurance is not going to be in vain…and neither will Timothy’s be in vain.
Because it can be disheartening and even devastating when people we love…walk away from Christ.
Two things are important to keep in mind:
- We don’t know how things will yet turn out for them…keep praying, keep sharing, keep living the gospel out…don’t measure too soon…endure in hope and faithfulness…for yourself and for others.
- God is faithful…and all he has called us to is to be faithful…don’t worry about what is not yours to control.
T.S. Elliot, once wrote “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”
We have talked about the difference between trying and training…for Elliot, I’m sure he would agree and in his pithy statement, trying is his shorthand for “be faithful.”
We are to be faithful…the rest is God’s, not our business.
Ultimately…God will ensure that Paul’s life work will not be left merely to the power of human will or endurance.
Timothy, must embrace this faith and faithfulness himself…and then pass it on to faithful men and women, who will then pass it on to others…and others…and others.
So are we supposed to go looking for sacrifice and suffering for our faith?
No, of course not…Paul avoided prison and beatings whenever he could.
Soldiers, athletes, farmers…don’t look for suffering, or difficulty, they just don’t run from it.
We are to go looking to be faithful and to not shrink back from the cost of faithfulness…in whatever form it comes to us.
We need to be especially alert to the very small opportunities to be faithful…and to sacrifice to do so.
Soldiers, Athletes, Farmers…practice their trades, they train.
Opportunities abound for us to train for godliness.
Let’s look briefly at a verse from Jeremiah.
Jeremiah had a very difficult life calling, he faced a ton of opposition and suffering…he did not like his job, he wasn’t happy about what God had for him…at least early on.
In one of his conversations with God…he is bringing that great and common question to God…why do the wicked prosper, and I’m trying to follow you and having such a hard time?
God’s answer is similar to his response to Job…kind of a non-answer…but rather a perspective shaper.
Jer. 12:5 “If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
In other words…. “You don’t need to be worrying about all that…I’ve given you opportunities to train and you haven’t been making the most of them.
Look son, its about to get harder…train with what is in front of you now.”
Because…If you can’t run with men, how are you going to run with horses?
Train your heart and mind to be faithful…don’t merely contemplate the hypothetical… “I wonder if I would be faithful if I was persecuted for my faith?”
Pay attention to the actual… “Are you currenting actively forgiving others, dying to pettiness, letting people fail you and giving them grace. Sacrifice your time rather than hoarding it.
Are you being nice to your spouse, your neighbor…are you watching what you watch and what you say?
If you train in the actual you will be prepared for, the future potential.
If you fail to train in the now, you will find yourself unprepared for the more difficult…then.
God will love you and help you even if you don’t train…but you will not have availed yourself of all his resources.
Paul, from his prison cell is telling Timothy to “endure hardship like a good soldier”
Timothy wasn’t to read this letter and think…“Well, none of my challenges are as bad as Paul’s…this doesn’t apply to me.”
What Paul intended was for Timothy to be faithful with his own challenges, even as Paul was being faithful with his.
Don’t miss the opportunity in this passage for your life as it is…for you to endure faithfully in whatever that means for you now.
As I have thought about this passage, quite a bit over the years…the verse I land is… “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Grace is God’s power and unmerited favor.
We are to give full effort, not to earn God’s power and favor…but to live fully in it and to fully enjoy it.
But we cannot forget that his power and favor are unearned gifts…we have to hold the tension in place.
Our enjoyment of God’s grace in our lives…turns our life’s efforts into offerings to the Lord…not frantic activities.
Rom. 12:1 “In view of God’s mercy…offer your bodies, your very lives, as living sacrifices(offerings) to God.”
Our efforts are not aimed at earning, they are aimed at enjoying, fully engaging…God’s grace…his favor and power.